Air India, privatised earlier in January 2022 and finally got a CEO on board in Campbell Wilson, made some big moves earlier this year concerning adding aircraft to the fleet it already operates. Previously, they had announced that they would add 30 jets in the short term, including five wide-body jets. Out of this, they have received their first 777LR already. They have announced that they will add another 6 aircraft in the coming months.
Air India to lease six wide-body aircraft.
Air India last enhanced its fleet in 2016, when it signed on to bring 14 brand-new A320neo into its fleet via a leasing transaction with ALAFCO Aviation Lease and Finance company of Kuwait. The deal was signed in 2016, and the aircraft started to be inducted into the fleet in February 2017. Another 13 A320neo aircraft were also added via a lease with GECAPS and CIT. The full induction of the A320neo aircraft was completed by March 2019.
Air India announced the lease of six Boeing B777-300 ER widebody aircraft to augment its existing fleet further. These aircraft are expected to be inducted in the first half of 2023 and deployed on Air India’s short, medium and long-haul international routes. The decision to lease these six aircraft is in addition to the thirty whose lease was announced earlier in 2022, including twenty-one Airbus A320, four Airbus A321 and five Boeing B777-200LR widebody aircraft.
Air India’s B777-300 ER will have a four-class configuration of First, Business, Premium Economy and Economy and will be deployed to connect Indian metro cities with even more international destinations.
The airline’s expansion plan has already witnessed 19 long-grounded aircraft returning to the skies, with nine more to follow, even as the airline has stepped up the lease of narrow and wide-body aircraft. As part of the expansion, Air India has raised the frequency of flights between key cities in the domestic sector. It has also announced direct flights between Indian cities and key global destinations like Doha, San Francisco, Vancouver, and Birmingham. Further, Air India is set to commence direct flights from Delhi to key European cities like Milan, Vienna and Copenhagen and from Mumbai to New York, Paris and Frankfurt.
Air India is in the final stages of negotiating an order for at least 200 aircraft, including both narrow- and wide bodies. However, the airline does not expect to take any of these aircraft before 2024 due to limited delivery slots.
Air India’s wide body lease to come from the Middle East?
There is not complete clarity at the moment about where the 777-300ER aircraft are going to come from, but it could be that they might be here from the Middle-Eastern players.
While in the long run, Air India is working on a project to bring the A350 aircraft into its fleet, as it has also sounded off internal recruitment for the aircraft, and the details are being worked out. For the short term, it needs aircraft to meet the demand between India and the United States. There is an opportunity because other carriers from the US side cannot access the Russian airspace, thereby postponing their plans to operate from the US West Coast.
Currently, there are at least five ex-Emirates B777-300ERs in storage, and nine ex-Etihad B777-300ERs are in storage for now. Etihad had previously decided to focus on the 787 and A350 aircraft towards the future of its fleet. However, whispers continue to pop up about the imminent return of the A380 aircraft.
The trouble with both these theories is that none of these has a pre-fitted premium-economy cabin, and with a retrofit, taking in five 777-300ERs will be a long shot. So, we eventually have to see where they are coming in from. We know that the 777-300ERs are available on the market for leases, with aircraft having exited many airlines during Covid-19.
Commenting on the fleet expansion, Mr Campbell Wilson, CEO & Managing Director of Air India, said,
Growing our network is an essential part of Air India’s Vihaan.AI transformational journey and we remain committed to increasing connectivity and frequency of flights both domestically and internationally. These additional aircraft leases will support our near-term growth even as we finalise plans to refresh and significantly grow our long-term fleet.
Air India will lease 6 Boeing 777-300ERs. These planes should start being inducted into Air India’s fleet as of H1 2023, besides other aircraft that have been brought back after extended groundings. Using the Boeing 777s, Air India also intends to offer Premium Economy on their long-haul flights.
What do you make of the Air India fleet augmentation plans?
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Since the planes are due to arrive soon there would be no time for refurbishment considering supply chain issues.
In all likelihood these are ex CX or SQ birds. They both have multiple 4 class 77Ws in storage.
Couple of thoughts regarding the future of Air India and the possible areas that the airline might consider:
1- We are all aware that AI has a plan to refurbish it’s existing cabins. In this case, why not use Vistara’s product which is already a clear upgrade over the existing Air India seats in Y and J class ? It would be cheaper and more inexpensive as compared to getting a new product altogether. We know the Vistara brand would be phased out in the coming years, but there are elements of Vistara that can be maintained; Namely the hard product and would not be surprised if there is a Premium Economy on Air India soon.
2- We are also aware that AI is intending to consider the A350. Instead of ordering that, why not boeing 789 as both airlines use same fleet ?
This would also make much sense from a cost perspective.
But probably the Tatas know something or have factored in something that we are not aware about.
3- Remember days when Air India flew international primarily and Indian Airlines domestic ? Something similar could happen where the merged (Air India + Vistara) entity serves primarily only the international market whereas the Air India Express + Air Asia India entity handles only domestic flights. Could a similar strategy happen here ?
If this happens, history would be repeating itself as far as Air India / Indian Airlines is concerned.
4- Tatas are projecting AI as a carrier focused on the corporate / premium travelers; Expect more consolidation in BOM/DEL/BLR.
We all know that the corporate / premium travelers are the biggest profit centers for the airlines, and so expect the airline to make pretty lavish arrangements for them and also consequently reduce services in Economy.
@Ashish, in parts response to you.
1) Where are they going to get that many seats for old aircraft when there are not enough going around for new aircraft in the market?
2) It boils down to cost, availability and strategy. The 787 has a long waitlist, esp with about 100 of these still to be reworked and delivered to customers (eventually). And Airbus might have thrown in sweeteners. We will never know what they are.
3) Won’t happen, or so I hope. There is a need for business class in domestic as well.
Thanks for the response Ajay.
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